The city released a rendering of what the performing arts center will look like.
The city released a rendering of what the performing arts center will look like.

After scoring public applause and a City Council thumbs-up in recent meetings, construction on the $220 million Sandy Springs City Center will begin early next month. More water, more trees, and bigger apartments are the main tweaks to the green and glittery plan.

The massive public-private City Center development targets the intersection of Roswell, Mount Vernon and Johnson Ferry roads for a new City Hall, apartments, commercial space, and concert and theater halls. More than a year of planning has the various pieces in place, but the public recently weighed in on the look and feel of the final product.

“I don’t know of anything we have done in the city where we have got more public input,” said Mayor Rusty Paul at a June 16 City Council meeting where construction funding was approved.

Paul praised the architect and design team for processing comments from more than 1,000 residents. That’s roughly 1 percent of the city’s population.

The plan seemed to please members of the crowd of about 100 residents who attended a June 18 presentation at Heritage Sandy Springs.

Sandy Springs City Councilman Andy Bauman, right, talks to residents Chuck and Bonnie Berk about the City Center’s final design plans during a presentation at Heritage Sandy Springs on June 18.

“I think they’ve done a good job of blending some of the necessary high-rise elements with stone and trees…things that feel warmer,” resident Bonnie Berk said.

However, the meeting did not include a question-and-answer format. Instead, Paul requested residents to have one-on-one chats with elected officials and design team members in scattered spots around the room. Most resident comments and questions heard afterward involved construction details.

Chuck Berk, Bonnie Berk’s husband, said he is “impressed with the level of detail” in how the plan was tweaked to suit the public’s comments.

But resident Wil Johnson said in an email that he fears the project repeats the mistakes of the shuttered Target store at the site’s core.

“It puts a high-rise fortress at a location which cannot handle the existing traffic flow,” Johnson wrote. “It adds 10 times the density to a location where Target already failed due to terrible access.”

After several public discussions, members of the design team added to the project six fountains and scores of trees, including a green rooftop terrace on the main building.

“The primary theme we heard from the public…is, it involves water and it involves shade,” said project architect George Bushey at the City Council meeting.

The building—combining City Hall, retail space and the Performing Arts Center—is the most public face of the complex. Fronting on Roswell Road, it will present a four-story, glassed, dramatically lit face to the community.

Another highlight is the City Green, a large park adjacent to Mount Vernon. It will feature a wooded seating area and a “water wall” fountain, as well as open parkland. An “interactive fountain” spraying up from the ground for children to splash in goes elsewhere on the site.

The “Market Square” commercial mini-center planned on the Johnson Ferry side is shaped like an oval with a small park and fountain in the center.

Two privately developed apartment buildings will anchor the western side of the site, along Sandy Springs Circle. They will have a mix of sizes and exterior designs. Some will be townhomes with bay windows, and all will have functional balconies.

Many of the more than 800 parking spaces will be underground, as will delivery and trash services.

Besides the main City Center plan, Paul said there is funding for two wish-list items on adjacent properties. One is another park on the Johnson Ferry/Mount Vernon triangle on the other side of Roswell Road. Its details are yet to be finalized. The other item is a large accessory parking lot to the south of the site, between Mount Vernon and Hilderbrand Drive.

Holder Construction will start work on City Center early next month after the council approved a contract for an initial expenditure of $12.9 million in prep work. The eventual total project could be north of $220 million, but there will be a maximum spending cap in the contract.

Some demolition is already underway on the former Goodwill store on the property. Holder will begin site work early next month.
Paul said at the June 18 presentation that he wants one further piece of public involvement at a planned August groundbreaking ceremony.

“We’re going to ask people to bring some dirt from your neighborhood to this site…symbolically linking the [new] neighborhood to your neighborhood,” he said.